“That’s why I like how our community supports us,” Lisa Aring, who’d just been asked that question, said as she watched her son taking long strides toward first. Ricky Aring, 12, is a member of the Challenger League baseball team, which was playing its games at Richard Bell Field, home of the Cartersville Purple Hurricanes.
Among the audience were two Rome Braves, members of the Purple Hurricanes and others, all serving as buddies to the Challenger youngsters, as well as Challenger League parents, who had the luxury of being spectators and cheerleaders this day.
Lisa Aring couldn’t have been prouder of the change she has witnessed in the five years her son has participated, and she credited that with changing her perspective of her son playing sports. “You get to cheer them as they play instead of having to coach them,” she said.
She said the support is from throughout the community, too.
“The Hurricanes help us a lot and a lot of people in the baseball community, such as the Rome Braves, are a part of that,” she said.
She said Ricky has been looking forward to the Braves’ appearance. “He knows who they are. We go to a lot of their games. In fact I’m using it as a Mother’s Day gift this year.”
She said that attitude is prevalent about players in the Challenger League. “They’re very excited and like having them here.”
Stuart Chester, head coach of the Purple Hurricanes, said he likes his players to participate because they are doing something important in their lives with this community involvement with the Challenger League. The Challenger League is comprised of youngsters who are physically or mentally challenged and need guidance or assistance as they play the game.
“All our players are out here,” Chester said.
The Cartersville skipper said the lessons they learn are more important than the game they play.
“I think when our guys give back to their communities, it’ll take them a little further in life than learning to turn a double play or hitting a home run.
“If it came to it, this would take priority [over the playoffs],” he said, but added the Canes would do both Saturday by practicing for the playoffs — which now feature their playoff series Tuesday against Columbus — after the Challenger League completed its play.
Tammie Walker said her daughter, Anna, 17, has looked forward to the Braves coming. “It’s the biggest smile Anna has had in a long time.”
Walker, whose husband Paul coaches, said she appreciates that effort by others.
“I think it’s great the way they take time to be with the kids,” she said, adding other Braves have been buddies in the past. “They’ve been really good about showing up, and the kids just love them.”
Edison Sanchez of Venezuela was one of the two Rome Braves at Saturday’s game.
Sanchez has been in the U.S. playing minor league ball with the Braves’ organization several years, joining the Rome Braves in April.
He said reaching out to the community is important to him. “We love to do this. We do something like this about every two weeks. We try to find something where we can help in the community.”
Prior to Saturday’s games, he greeted youngsters, had his picture made with them and signed autographs. He also shared some of his baseball knowledge when the opportunity presented itself. He clearly enjoyed the personal contact.
“We just play baseball with these guys,” he said. “This makes them and it makes me feel better. It’s a really good experience for us to help.”
He said it’s not just the kids who are learning, though.
“They learn from us, and we learn from them, too. It’s amazing how they try to do everything they can. They enjoy the game and have fun regardless of how good they are. They’re always smiling. You feel really good doing things like this.”
While reaching out into the community is important to Sanchez, baseball is the reason he wears his uniform.
The Venezuela native was moved to left field — from first base — to get him in the lineup, and he enjoys the switch. “It’s different, but it feels really good being out there everyday trying to help the team.”
Also helping the youngsters was Ernesto Silva from Panama, a right-handed pitcher for the Rome Braves.